I Just Nominated Trump and Netanyahu for the Ig Nobel. Here's Why | Opinion

Following yesterday's signing in Washington D.C. of the historical peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (with some slightly vague participation from Bahrain), I submitted the names of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, UAE Foreign Minister Abduallah Bin Zayed and President Donald Trump as nominees for the Nobel Prize for Peace, "for establishing a peace agreement between countries who had never, ever been at war, shared a border, or clashed violently over any dispute".

I'm sorry, did I say the Nobel Prize? I meant the Ig Nobel.

Started as a satire of the Nobel, the Ig Nobel has grown in seriousness over the years, and is now officially awarded to "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." Described more loosely, it credits real accomplishments of endeavors carried out with full scientific merit, but providing less immediate or consequential value to mankind than a Nobel achievement—if any; the kind of accomplishments one can't help but admire, yet also has to ask "why would someone fully capable choose not to spend his time on something more meaningful?"

Like peace between Israel and the Palestinians, for instance.

Moreover, the agreement dubbed by President Trump "The Abraham Accords"perfectly straddles the line between greatness and parody characteristic of the Ig Nobel.

For instance: while my tongue-in-cheek citation of a peace agreement where there had never been war is accurate, there is also a wider historical context. The UAE and Israel had been in indirect opposition even without a direct clash, with the UAE joining all but two Arab League nations in maintaining at least a pretense of commitment to the 1967 Kharotum Resolution ofArab unity against recognition, peace, or even negotiations with Israel, and vowing to support of the Palestinians before individual state interests. While many states have maintained unofficial relations with Israel for decades, the UAE and Bahrain are the first Arab states to formally sign a peace agreement with Israel since King Hussein's Jordan in 1994 (and after Saadat's Egypt broke ranks to pursue peace in 1979.) The Accords shift the focus of some of Israeli-Arab relations from confrontation over the results of the war between them in 1967 (and even more so, of 1948) to cooperation in face of the new common challenge—a confrontation with a belligerent and nuclearizing Iran (which condemned the agreement as soon as it was announced.)

They also shift the focus of peace efforts away from the Palestinians—the most meaningful and challenging frontier of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the one where there actually is an active, continued, and bleeding violence (Israel's occupation of the West Bank, once thought unsustainable, is cruising through its 64th year; militants fired rockets from Gaza into Israel during the peace signing ceremony.)
It is the puzzle piece most coveted by peace supporters, and has in fact until recently been considered the piece without which no other progress can be made. President Trump started his presidency with grand promises of "The Deal of the Century", which was supposed to promote Israeli-Palestinian resolutions by shuffling the board and bringing other Arab states into play. That great aspiration shrunk to Trump offering to approve Israel annexation of parts of the West Bank in exchange for support for establishing a Palestinian state in the future, an offer which was itself rejected by Palestinians, accepted by Israel, and then also abandoned by Netanyahu's government as impossible in the regional and political context.

The Abraham Accords, whose inspirational name invokes the shared father and founder of the different monotheistic religions of the Middle East, is thus viewed by many as a consolation prize—the peace agreement we could reach, not the peace agreement we need. While details of the agreement remain uncertain (Netanyahu reportedly negotiated the agreement without the help of his foreign office, and rather comically realized only en route to the ceremony that he needed his foreign minister's authorization to sign it himself), it appears that the Accords include an expression of support for the two state solution, and, at least on paper, final abandonment of the annexation—the very annexation promise on which he ran his last campaign, only six months ago.

That was the serious context. The tragicomical one—say, 99 percent tragedy tinged with one percent of bleak political satire—is that both Israel and the U.S. have spent the summer at the top of the world table of worst COVID-19 infection rates per population—in large part, due to policies directed by Netanyahu and Trump. Israel's economy has entered a downward spin, unemployment has skyrocketed, and a second national lockdown is set to subsume the High Holiday season (the health authorities asked for it to start earlier, but Netanyahu postponed it by a few days so as not to break it by flying overseas for the peace ceremony). It has not escaped Israelis' attention that after an unprecedented eleven consecutive years in office, and three election campaigns within one year, Netanyahu has signed his celebrated peace deal at the very moment when both his popularity and his chances of avoiding a criminal conviction are at an all-time low.

It is also in this context that the Abraham Accords are perceived as a last, desperate claim to fame of a politician who has always used his negotiation skills to squander time and avoid "threats" of peace; an attempt by a prime minister (alongside a possibly one-term president) to belatedly prove he merits a Nobel Prize, or at least an Ig Nobel.

I think both Netanyahu and Trump have earned the latter, and fervently hope it will be both men's going-away present.

Dr. Ofek Birholtz teaches astrophysics in Israel.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.